Why the Academy Needs a Resurrection of the Soul, by Mark Edmundson

Courage, contemplation, compassion: These are the great ideals of the ancient world. And though their lights are dimming, there is still time to revive them, to examine them, and, if one is so moved, to bring them into one’s own life. 

by Mark Edmundson |  The Chronicle of Higher Education

by Adam Niklewicz for The Chronicle
by Adam Niklewicz for The Chronicle

It is no secret: Culture in the West has become progressively more practical, materially oriented, and skeptical. When I look out at my students, I see people who are in the process of choosing a way to make money and succeed, a strategy for getting on in life.

We’re more and more a worldly, money-based culture geared to the life of getting and spending, trying and succeeding, reaching for more and more. We are a pragmatic people. We do not seek perfection in thought or art, war or faith. The profound stories about heroes and saints are passing from our minds. We are anything but idealists. From the halls of academe, where a debunking realism is the order of the day, to the floor of the stock market, nothing is in worse repute than the ideal.

The passing away of our commitment to ideals should not happen without second thoughts. Young people, who have traditionally been the ones most receptive to ideals, should be able to choose. Do they want to live a wholly practical life in a practical culture? Do they want to seek safety and security and never risk being made fools of? Or do they perhaps want something else? Every generation should be able to hold its own plebiscite on the issue of ideals.

Courage, contemplation, compassion: These are the great ideals of the ancient world. And though their lights are dimming, there is still time to revive them, to examine them, and, if one is so moved, to bring them into one’s own life. Although their first exemplars — Homer, Plato, Buddha, Jesus — are male, the ideals are there for men and women alike, and for members of all races and every class. The warrior needs strength, yes; the thinker needs the chance to develop intellect. Those facts may eliminate certain individuals, though not as many as one might imagine. But the life of compassion, perhaps the most consistently rewarding of the ideals, is available to all of us.

Few will be able to adopt an ideal without reserve. There will always be some need for the protective armor of what I will call “self.” But even those of us most enclosed in self can expand our beings with the simplest acts of courage or compassion, or with a true effort at thought. And after that initial expansion, who knows what might befall?

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See also:

Spiritually Thriving in High Stress Environments, by Gary David Stratton, PhD

Soul-Nourishing Practices in a Soul-Deadening World: Emmy Magazine’s Interview with Kurt Schemper, Korey Scott Pollard, and Gary David Stratton

Connecting to God in Hollywood, the Ivy League, and Beyond, by Gary David Stratton

Give it a Rest! by Keith Kettenring, PhD

Finding Soul, by Barry Taylor, PhD

The Soul Killing Problem of Bad Art, by Ashley Ariel

Why Fasting is a lot like Surfing, by Gary David Stratton

Wendell Berry on Solitude and Why Pride and Despair are Two Great Enemies of Creative Work, by Maria Popova

 

 

 

Wendell Berry on Solitude and Why Pride and Despair are Two Great Enemies of Creative Work, by Maria Popova

Berry paints pride and despair as two sides of the same coin, both equally culpable in poisoning creative work

“True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible… In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives.”

by  / Brainpickings

wendellberry_whatarepeoplefor“One can’t write directly about the soul,” Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary. Few writers have come to write about it — and to it — more directly than the novelist, poet, and environmental activist Wendell Berry, who describes himself as “a farmer of sorts and an artist of sorts.” In his wonderful and wonderfully titled essay collection What Are People For? (public library), Berry addresses with great elegance our neophilic tendencies and why innovation for the sake of novelty sells short the true value of creative work.

Novelty-fetishism, Berry suggests, is an act of vanity that serves neither the creator nor those created for:

Works of pride, by self-called creators, with their premium on originality, reduce the Creation to novelty — the faint surprises of minds incapable of wonder.

Pursuing originality, the would-be creator works alone. In loneliness one assumes a responsibility for oneself that one cannot fulfill.

Novelty is a new kind of loneliness.

Berry paints pride and despair as two sides of the same coin, both equally culpable in poisoning creative work and pushing us toward loneliness rather than toward the shared belonging that true art fosters:

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The Spiritual Lives of Christian College Students, by Todd W. Hall, PhD

An introduction to five-part series based upon Todd’s five-year research project on the spirituality of students at Christian colleges.

The data from more than 3,000 Christian college students across the United States and Canada provides a fascinating snapshot of how students are doing spiritually.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD

One of the most important goals of Christian colleges and universities is to help students grow spiritually and develop their character. Likewise, one of the biggest challenges universities like Biola face is evaluating how we are doing in this area. In fact, secular accrediting agencies have begun asking such schools for evidence that they are assessing and improving student spiritual development, since it is a core part of our mission.

Spirituality can never be evaluated perfectly, but I believe we can obtain useful indicators of where people are in their spiritual development process. The whole issue of measuring spirituality is a complex one beyond the focus of this blog series, but I will address this in another blog post. Before we start measuring anything, however, we need a theologically and psychologically informed theory of spiritual maturity and development.

For the past 15 years, I have been working on such a model of spiritual development. The Reader’s Digest version is that theology, psychology and brain science are converging in suggesting that spiritual development is about loving relationships with God and others, and that relationships change our brain, soul, and ability to love. As author Robert Karen eloquently put it: “We are loved into loving.” I call this model “relational spirituality” (see articles on my relational spirituality model here).

This journey has led me to develop ways of measuring and assessing relational spirituality, which in turn led to the pursuit of research on the spirituality of students attending Christian colleges in the hopes of helping these colleges answer the crucial question: Are our students growing spiritually?

In 2003, I headed up a talented research team in launching of a large study designed to track the spiritual development of 500 Christian college students from freshman to senior year. Funded by The John Templeton Foundation and Biola University, the research involved in depth interviews and twice-a-year surveys about each student’s spiritual practices and relationship with God.

A year later, I began a second research project that allowed Christian colleges to measure 22 indicators of students’ spiritual lives using the Spiritual Transformation Inventory (STI) that I developed in the early stages of the longitudinal study. To date, more than 3,000 students from nearly 40 Christian colleges across the United States and Canada have participated. Together, the studies provide a fascinating snapshot of how students at Christian colleges are doing spiritually. And the results may surprise you.

Stay tuned for the next blog in the series as I offer the first of five brief reflections synthesized from five years of national data and the four-year longitudinal study.

Next: Christian College Students are Secure but Unpracticed Spiritually

Relationships, Theology and Suffering: How College Students Grow Spiritually

Part 5 of series The Spiritual Lives of Christian College Students. The fifth and final reflection on the spirituality of students attending Christian colleges based upon Todd’s national research project, informed by Spiritual Transformation Inventory (STI) data from over 5,000 students attending CCCU and ABHE colleges and universities.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD

We asked students across the United States to rate how various aspects of the school environment and programs impacted their spiritual development, ranging from very negative to very positive.

The top three growth facilitators were peer relationships, working through suffering and Bible/theology classes. This and numerous findings from both studies highlight the centrality of relationships and a biblical worldview for spiritual development. This suggests that we need to communicate a theological framework for growing through relationships, and for the role of suffering in spiritual growth. In addition, we need to develop a relational environment that will help students process their suffering in a growth-producing way.

Worldview Formation and Spiritual Growth

This is a stage when students begin put together the theological pieces of a Christian worldview. A junior I interviewed, who I’ll call Steve, talked about how he views his whole faith differently as a result of his Bible/theology classes at national known Christian University.

“[There were] all these things that I guess I didn’t think about before and didn’t really know existed from my faith in middle school and high school, before attending a Christian College,” he said. “So I would get in the Word but there was no theological understanding of piecing things together from Scripture. … I just feel like there has been this whole transformation of the way I view God and Christ and even my relationship with him.”

A Christian worldview, however, must transcend our head knowledge and permeate our souls. Research clearly indicates that a biblical worldview, morality and character become real in one’s life through close relationships, one of which is our relationship with God. Close human relationships, particularly with authority figures, are also crucial to help students see what it looks like in real life to live out integrity, a biblical worldview and, most of all, love.

The Role of Suffering in Spiritual Growth

Crises and trials are common in the loves of most college students. Over half the sample reported experiencing a crisis in the past year. When asked to describe their crises in an open-ended format, the most frequently reported crises included loss of relationship, relationship stresses and health concerns. We also asked students to describe their most difficult spiritual struggles, and the top three they reported were relational conflict, busyness and lust/sex/pornography.

Processing suffering was a key catalyst of spiritual growth, because it often gives students access to deep places in their soul that move them away from God — places we would not otherwise know existed. Trials shake up their negative gut-level expectations of God and other important people in our lives. Working through trials, however, always occurs in the context of relationships and community.

The Role of Relationships and Authoritative Communities in Spiritual Growth

The challenge for this stage is to navigate relationships with God and process of solidifying one’s identity and learning how to love.  A group of scholars recently developed the idea of “authoritative communities” as the kind of community that is necessary for human development. These are communities that provide structure (e.g., morality is embedded in the community) and love and warmth. These communities have an idea, even if implicit, of what it means to be a good person, and the leaders provide love to the younger members in order to help them become good people.

At its best, this is what a Christian College community can and should strive to be. College students, like all of us, are loved into loving. I think I speak for the Christian College administration, faculty and staff in saying that we are on a journey to try to do this better than we ever have before.

 

Today’s College Students Fit one of Five Spirituality Types, by Todd W. Hall, PhD

Part 4 of series The Spiritual Lives of Christian College Students. The fourth of five reflections on the spirituality of students attending Christian colleges based upon Todd’s national research project, informed by Spiritual Transformation Inventory (STI) data from over 5,000 students attending CCCU and ABHE colleges and universities.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD

There is no “one size fits all” spiritual growth plan. Every student has unique needs. While colleges and universities cannot tailor spiritual growth programs for every individual, they can start to identify groups of students with different needs.

The Spiritual Transformation Inventory (STI) and the national data from this project help us move in this direction. We found five different types or groups in terms of their pattern of scores on the 22 scales. This suggests that we need to identify these groups so that we can tailor spiritual formation plans to their needs.

Type 1 – Secure and Engaged (21.4 percent of the sample) students are quite spiritually mature for this stage. This group was highly secure in their sense of connection to God and highly spiritually engaged in practices and community. We need to further strengthen these mature students and encourage them towardleadership.

Type 2 – Distant yet Engaged (15.2 percent). These students report a distant connection with God, and were moderately engaged in spiritual practices and community. We need to help this group develop relationships in which they feel seen and known to address their distant connection to God.

Type 3 – Moderate Security and Engagement (25 percent). This group reported an average degree of security with God and spiritual engagement. We need to help these students find their strengths.

Type 4 – Anxious and Disengaged (27.2 percent).  This group was highly insecure in their connection to God (mainly anxious) and moderately low in their spiritual engagement. This group needs help with developing what attachment theory calls a “secure base”; that is, a deep, gut-level sense that caregivers are consistently responsive to their emotional and relational needs.

Type 5 – Insecure and Disengaged (11.2 percent). This group was highly insecure (both distant and anxious connection to God) and very low in their engagement in practices and community. This group is the most spiritually immature, and represents a high-risk group for emotional problems and dropout. We need to proactively identify these students and begin mentoring them at the beginning of their freshman year.

Knowing that our student spirituality is not monolithic but varied, we can better develop relationships, classroom approaches, co-curricular and even curricular programming that better meets the unique needs of each and every student.

Next:  Relationships, Theology and Suffering: How Students Grow Spiritually

 

Christian College Seniors Report Lower Spiritual Vitality than Freshman, by Todd W. Hall, PhD

The third of five reflections on The Spiritual Lives of Christian College Students based upon Todd’s national research project, including Spiritual Transformation Inventory data from over 5,000 students attending CCCU and ABHE colleges and universities.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD

On national data collected at one point in time, we found that seniors scored lower than freshmen on 19 of the 22 measures.

When we look at how students’ spirituality changes over time, many of the indicators of spiritual development went down over time, but some went up. For example, scores trended worse on the frequency of spiritual disciplines, the centrality of faith and an anxious connection to God, but better on an overall sense of spiritual well-being. On national data collected at one point in time, we found that seniors scored lower than freshmen on 19 of the 22 measures.

How do we make sense of this? When we look at this in the context of brain development and “emerging adulthood,” I think this is probably a normal developmental trajectory. The brain goes through a massive reorganization between the ages of 12 and 18, and this continues into the early 20s. Parallel to these brain changes, students’ identity, sense of self, and worldview all go through an extensive reorganization during this period as well. With all this brain and identity reorganization, it makes sense that this is a time of spiritual instability.

Jeffrey Arnett captured a developmental phenomenon that has been growing for the past 50 years with the concept of “emerging adulthood,” roughly the age span of 18 to 29. Emerging adults tend to feel somewhat like a kid, and somewhat like an adult, but not fully like either one.
In this stage, students are at a spiritual crossroads: They are figuring out what kind of person they want to be, what kind of people they want to travel life with and what kind of work they want to do. They are also figuring out what role they want God to play in their lives. This leads them to travel many pathways in a short period of time. This means that manifestations of their spirituality will often go down.

Decreases on some indicators of spiritual development during the college years actually reflect a deepening of one’s faith.

It may be, however, that decreases on some indicators of spiritual development during the college years actually reflect a deepening of one’s faith. This is a period that often requires a certain deconstruction of one’s identity, sense of self, and worldview in order to build the foundation for an adult identity and a more mature spirituality.

In light of this, I suspect that as we interview seniors in the current study we are conducting, we will find evidence that their spirituality is deeper than that of freshmen, even though they report lower scores than freshmen on self-report measures. This will help us better understand spiritual development during emerging adulthood.

Next: College Students tend to fit one of Five Spirituality “Types”

Christian College Students are Secure but Unpracticed Spiritually

Part 2 of series The Spiritual Lives of Christian College Students. The second of five reflections on the spirituality of students attending Christian colleges based upon Todd’s national research project, including Spiritual Transformation Inventory data from over 5,000 students attending CCCU and ABHE colleges and universities.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD

Our study of over 3,000 students from nearly 40 Christian colleges across the United States and Canada indicates that:

Christian college students feel a secure relational connection to God, experience a strong sense of meaning and are developing a Christian perspective on life, and yet they are low on practicing spiritual disciplines.

On the one hand, this sense of secure connection to God, meaning and Christian perspective is noteworthy good news. Despite the instability and struggles of this stage, the breakdown of the family and increasing rates of emotional problems among children and college students, students attending Christian colleges have a secure connection with God, which is the foundation for spiritual development.

On the other hand, the data tells us that students at Christian colleges are generally not practicing their faith in a substantial way. Why might this be? It may be partly due to busyness, which was the most frequently reported struggle. It may also be that students feel that spiritual input is built into their environment so they don’t need to be intentional about it — as one student, who I’ll call Jim, described to me in an interview.

“Even when you have a bad day, you are going to Bible classes, you’re going to chapel, you’re all around your Christian friends and your days look so similar,” he said. “It just seems like it’s easier to kind of coast internally, spiritually, and in my heart. Whereas being at home or being out of the environment, I have to get into the Word for the strength of the Word and that is why I have to go and be with the Lord every morning.”

In general, I think we need a better understanding of how to (1) help students be intentional about their spiritual growth and (2) continue the process of owning their faith. This characteristic may also relate to the second reflection: students’ developmental stage and how that impacts spiritual transformation over time. To the extent that students are focused on trying on new identities in love, work and faith, spiritual practices may go by the wayside.

Next: College Seniors Report Lower Spiritual Vitality than Freshman

Why Many Emerging Adults are so Spiritually Mature, by Todd W. Hall, PhD

Part 11 in series How Millennials Who Gave Up on Church are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD

I work a lot with graduate students and some clients who are in the “emerging adult” stage (defined as approximately 18-29). Many of them feel lost in their spiritual journey and are experiencing significant struggles. But this is not the whole picture.

A significant number of emerging adults are spiritually mature for their age/stage and growing a lot during this time in their lives. This, in part, inspired a current, ongoing study I am conducting of spiritual exemplars in the emerging adult stage.

I would like to offer a few preliminary observations from this study to the emerging adults who feel lost on their spiritual journey, and invite those of you who are older leaders to “listen” in. These observations come from your peers—young adults who were nominated by mentors as spiritual exemplars for this study. While these young adults have their own struggles, I hope the common themes emerging from their vibrant spiritual lives will provide encouragement and direction for your spiritual journey.

These young adults feel they have been found by God, and subsequently experience spiritual transformation. Spiritual transformation for them is all about relationships and I think that resonates deeply with Scripture and with psychology. They pursue a deep connection with God in their everyday relationships with friends, mentors, and their communities.

1. Relationships with Friends: The young adult exemplars we interviewed seek spiritual friendships for encouragement and accountability. They realize the importance of good friendships, and the impact they have on their values. They often pray about their friendships. They choose their friends, in part, based on their spiritual life. As they have gotten older, these emerging adults find themselves focusing on deepening a few close friendships.

2. Relationships with Mentors: These young adults reported that mentors were and are very influential in their spiritual development. For some, particularly those who came from unhealthy families, these mentors have been like second parents to them. They conveyed the idea that they wouldn’t be where they are today without these mentors—that these mentors changed their life direction completely. They experience God’s love through these mentors in very concrete ways. They don’t feel they made this experience of love happen through their own effort or merit; instead, they feel God found them.

By gradually opening themselves to God’s love as expressed by their mentors, they are being loved into loving. Many of these young adults also came to realize that guidance comes more easily in the context of ongoing relationships, and so they are intentional about pursuing contact with their mentors.

3. Relationships in Community: These young adults talked about becoming increasingly aware of the impact their relational environment has on their spiritual life. They realize that the values of their communities shape their own, for better or worse, and this informs their decisions about how and how much they connect with various groups.

So, your peers would encourage you to find friends, mentors, and a community who want to invest in you, and invest in them. When God finds you, and He will, open your heart just a little bit more, and allow yourself to be loved into loving.

Next post in the series: Forget The Church, Follow Jesus: ‘Reverts’ Return to their Childhood Religions

The Zacchaeus Generation: Identity, Community, and Seeing, by Mike Friesen

Part 9 in series How Millennials Who Gave up  on Church are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community.

by Mike Friesen

Jesus summoning Zacchaeus the publican to entertain him at his house By William Brassey Hole (1846-1917 ) © Bridgeman Art Library / Private Collection

Our identities are ultimately dictated by our relationships. We are the byproduct of whom we commune with. When we look at what people become, they often have a worldview that kind of looks like their parents‘, kind of looks like their peers‘, kind of looks like the country they grew up in, and, hopefully, in its greatest fulfillment, it looks like an identity rooted in being a child of God, you are the image that you were created in.

We begin to develop an identity around these two things:

1. How others recognize us.

2. How we recognize others’ recognition of us.

When Rachel Held Evans says, “I left the church because I’m better at planning Bible studies than baby showers…but they only wanted me to plan baby showers” (See, 15 Reasons Why I Left the Church), the recognition she receives from her church is ultimately a dismissal of who she really is. Or, when she says, “I left the church because my questions were seen as liabilities,” she recognizes, their recognition of her as a burden to their congregation. When you read these statements by her (and ultimately a worldview assumed by many in this generation), how can one go back to a church when it is filled with the existential despair of the rejection of our selfhood?

The Zacchaeus Generation

In Luke 19, Jesus was traveling through when he saw a tiny man up in a tree named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was not a popular man in his community because he was a tax collector (I imagine he was treated like Bernie Madoff). When Jesus saw him up in a tree, it opened a new desire for Zacchaeus. He then offered to give back half his money and four times the money of all the people he had cheated.

I often feel like my generation is a generation of Zacchaeuses. We feel closed off from our ultimate desire of community because of this rejection of our selfhood. We have done things wrong, and will do things wrong, but it was the recognition of Jesus that served not only as the gift to be changed, but also to change. If no one recognizes Rachel’s gifts as a teacher, then she will never be able to change not only the church she is a part of, but she will never be changed by the church she is a part of. (Luckily, she has an audience that recognizes her and she has an outlet that way.)

If my generation is going to be a part of the future Church or at least part of local churches, then it will have to happen because there were people who recognized something in us. If our identity is rejected, then it will continue to close us off from community. But, if there are a few brave people who are able to say, “I see you. I like you. Come spend time with me,”, then we will see the millennial church flourish. But, if the previous generation treats us like the crowds that were mad at Jesus for recognizing Zacchaeus, then we will continue to be isolated, cynical, and further polarized.

Next post in the series:  Are Millennials Creating a New Religion? by Mike Friesen

 

Read More on Mike’s Blog ‘Christianity for the Rest of Us.’

How Millennials Who Gave Up on Church are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community: Series Intro

What looks like the death of religion in America, may in fact be the birth pangs of one of the greatest spiritual awakenings in history.

by Gary David Stratton, PhD

Millennials are abandoning hierarchical spectator churches

For nearly 400 years American churches have counted on Easter Sunday as the day of their largest attendance.  But if you’re watching carefully, attendance at traditional churches is getting smaller and smaller every year, especially among young adult “Millennials” (or “Mosiacs,” or “Generation Y.”)

Yet if you walk into some of the most thriving churches in Hollywood, such as Reality, Ecclesia, or Basileia, you are immediately struck by overwhelming swarms of Millennials.  What gives?

Are Millennails leaving the church, or coming back to it?  Or is the answer MUCH more complicated?

While swarming redefined faith communities committed to justice and relational connection (Baptism at Basileia Hollywood)

In honor of Easter we’re running a week of special posts on why so many Millennials are leaving the church, why they are coming back to something far different than the church they left, and how they are changing American religion in the process.

Millennial writers and spiritual formation leaders and a few of us more “seasoned” folks will weigh in on various aspects of the topic. Lord willing, it will contribute to a greater understanding of where the Holy Spirit is taking the church in the coming decades.

You Lost Me

We kick off the conversation with two posts by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group and a beloved former student and friend. David is an ongoing THW contributor and one of the most thoughtful “public intellectuals” on the subject of Millennial Faith (he calls them “Mosaics”).

I wept my way through his two latest books, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters (with Gabe Lyons) and You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith as he traced the reasons why young adults raised in evangelicalism are giving up on church, but not faith.

Along the way, I hope you come to the same conclusion that Sue and I have: what looks like the death of religion in America, may in fact be the birth pangs of one of the greatest spiritual awakenings in history.

 

Next: Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church, by David Kinnaman

 

Glee Faith Episode ‘Grilled Cheesus’ Explores Two Approaches to ‘Christian’ Faith

Glee Faith Episode “Grilled Cheesus” Explores Two Kinds of “Christian” Faith

by Gary David Stratton, PhD

I was deeply moved by Glee’s “faith” episode (“Grilled Cheesus” 10/8/2010). It was honest, awesome television, and the highest rated Glee episode of all time. I think they hit faith from nearly every possible angle: Judaism (Rachel), Christianity (Mercedes), some kind of Theism (Quinn), hedonism (Brittany), cynicism turned desperation (Puck), disappointed with God turned to atheism (Sue), narcissistic idolatry (Finn), sacred searching (Kurt), and even Sikh.

It definitely fit the broad community of postmodern tolerance show creator Ryan Murphy is shooting for. Plus, it clearly made the point that the separation of church and state is neither an excuse for ignoring the spiritual lives of teenagers, nor for allowing only anti-religious sentiment to be expressed.

I know some Christians were offended by Finn’s “Grilled Cheesus” storyline, but frankly, I thought his banal prayers were painfully close to the self-centered civil religion that often passes for Christianity in America.

While Finn prays self-centered prayers to a sandwich bearing the image of Jesus…

Worshipping God just to get what you want (a win, a girl, a job) is an all-too-common a reason to profess faith, but it has nothing to do with what Jesus taught his followers or modeled on the cross. I suspect the prophets of Israel would agree that “losing my religion” could be a good thing if it means I’m losing my idolatry.

 The episode’s moral premise rings true for people of every faith (or none): Everyone wants a direct line to God and hates the idea that we’re all floating around in space alone. But, “You’re not alone. The big questions are really big for a reason: they’re hard. But you know what, absolutely everybody struggles with them.” We all need something sacred in our life, so don’t close yourself off to a world of spiritual experiences that might surprise you.

..Mercedes respectfully invites her hurting atheist friend to her church for prayer

 Given the pain Ryan Murphy has experienced at the hands of (perhaps) well -meaning Christians, I was shocked that the episode didn’t end with a vicious attack on the church. While Kurt certainly gives voice to those wounded by organized religion, writing him into a positive experience in Mercedes’ church was, well, AMAZING!

If you can watch Kurt’s rendition of “I Want Hold Your Hand,” followed by a prophetic hand-holding in Mercedes’ dynamic Christian church with dry eyes, well, then you’re tougher than me.

…where a loving saint offers Kurt a hand to hold until his father wakes.

 In truth, I would have been disappointed if it had been a propaganda piece for or against faith. Instead it asked a lot of questions. Art is always better at asking questions than answering them. And, yes, Ryan Murphy’s questions were most prominent.

If someone from another worldview wants their questions to be the prominent ones on whatever becomes next year’s hottest show, then they’d better start working on creating something as special as Murphy’s gem.

I’m praying for them …whoever they are.

Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students’ Inner Lives

In honor of today’s National Collegiate Day of Prayer, I thought I would highlight Alexander W. AstinHelen S. AstinJennifer A. Lindholm‘s new book, Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students’ Inner Lives.

Noted expert on college student spirituality, Parker J. Palmer, calls their work “A groundbreaking study of the spiritual growth of college students … This is an essential book for anyone in academia who cares about the education of the whole person.”

Cultivating the Spirit details the findings of “Spirituality in Higher Education: Students’ Search for Meaning and Purpose,” UCLA‘s seven-year study examining the role that college plays in facilitating the development of students’ spiritual qualities.  Study highlights include:

The Study

“In 2003, we began a seven-year study examining how students change during the college years and the role that college plays in facilitating the development of their spiritual and religious qualities. Funded by the John Templeton Foundation, “Spirituality in Higher Education: Students’ Search for Meaning and Purpose,” is the first national longitudinal study of students’ spiritual growth.

We analyzed extensive data collected from 14, 527 students attending 136 colleges and universities nationwide, undertook personal interviews with individual students, held focus groups, and also surveyed and interviewed faculty. We developed measures of… five “Spiritual Qualities,” and five “Religious Qualities.”

Prayer Vigil at Northern Illinois University: Spirituality becomes MORE important to students while in college not less

The Findings

We found (that) Although religious engagement declines somewhat during college, [however] students’ spiritual qualities grow substantially.

Students show the greatest degree of growth in the five spiritual qualities if they are actively engaged in “inner work” through self-reflection, contemplation, or meditation.

Meditation and self-reflection are among the most powerful tools for enhancing students’ spiritual development.

Providing students with more opportunities to connect with their “inner selves” facilitates growth in their academic and leadership skills, contributes to their intellectual self-confidence and psychological well-being, and enhances their satisfaction with college.

Students also show substantial increases in Spiritual Quest when their faculty encourage them to explore questions of meaning and purpose or otherwise show support for their spiritual development.

Educational experiences and practices that promote spiritual development – especially service learning, interdisciplinary courses, study abroad, self-reflection, and meditation – have uniformly positive effects on traditional college outcomes.

The Conclusion

It is our shared belief that the findings provide a powerful argument for the proposition that higher education should attend more to students’ spiritual development, because spirituality is essential to students’ lives.

Assisting students’ spiritual growth will help create a new generation who are more caring, more globally aware, and more committed to social justice than previous generations, while also enabling students to respond to the many stresses and tensions of our rapidly changing technological society with a greater sense of equanimity.

If colleges and universities [better] emphasized activities and practices that promote spiritual development – such as self-reflection, interdisciplinary studies, and study abroad – how would traditional outcomes such as academic performance and leadership development be affected?”

So… you might want to consider joining in praying for our nation’s college students today.  It might be one the best things we can do to increase the effectiveness of our colleges.